New York State Funeral Directors Association

When her husband Georg died, Marie Hernemar faced a difficult decision: where to bury him.

She decided to bring his cremated remains to Sweden, where he was born, and where his relatives live.

It’s been more than two years now and Marie doesn’t know where her husband is interred. She’s unsure if she’ll ever get to pay her respects again.

“I need to know where my husband is buried,” Hernemar said.

If there’s any moral to her story – it’s that folks should think long and hard before making the decision to send a loved one’s remains overseas.

Especially if there’s a language barrier and the relationship with in-laws is not too clear.

MARIE’S NIGHTMARE

Marie was Georg’s only family in the U.S.

She and Georg, a Sweden-born Structural Engineer, lived in New Jersey.

Georg and Marie

Marie said she and Georg had discussed plans and decided to be buried together in the U.S.

But his aged mother couldn’t make it to a funeral in the U.S., so Marie decided to bring his remains to Sweden for a funeral and burial there.

She held a memorial service in New York for friends and family after she returned from Sweden.

Marie Hernemar, who was born in Haiti and grew up in the U.S., thought she’d done everything right.

“I had made plans with a funeral home listed on the State Department's website, but cancelled with them and decided on Funera, as recommended by Georg's sister, Karin,” she said.

She contacted a funeral home in New York City. They conducted a cremation service and gave her Georg’s ashes.

She booked the flight and carried her husband’s ashes to Sweden before handing them over to a representative from Funera.

That’s the last she saw of them.

Marie Hernemar paid for an obituary, among other things, and later found that the obituary omitted her name and the name of Georg’s children from a prior marriage.

Now she’s having difficulty getting in contact with Georg’s relatives.

She is full of suspicion now – did his Swedish relative seek to put his remains elsewhere? Did some kind of incompetence lead to her husband’s ashes being lost?

Did she fall victim to discrimination because she is black and her husband is white?

Complicating the matter is the fact that Hernemar doesn’t speak Swedish – and folks she’s been interacting with in Sweden keep referring her to others – something she calls a “merry-go-round.”

OUTREACH

Hernemar said she won’t stop trying to find answers, despite the hurdles.

She said her husband always said “You have to stand up for what is right.”

She’s created a Facebook page titled “Repatriate George Hernemar’s Remains,” and opened a Twitter account where she broadcasts her calls for getting an answer.

She established a petition on Change.org, gathering 147 signatures with the goal of having Georg’s remains returned for burial in the U.S.

Marie Hernemar said she was in contact with an individual at the Swedish online funeral home who told her the spouse has final say in the disposition of her husband’s remains.Georg and Marie Hernemar

Then she called back to find that individual didn’t work at that funeral home anymore.

She paid Funera for a funeral, a tomb and for the obituary and ordered a gravestone.

They e-mailed her a photo of the supposed grave site, but the date of death on it is 1980 – when Georg’s father died – not 2015 when Georg passed away.

She’s called for Georg’s remains to be disinterred and sent back to the U.S.

To that, the funeral home in Sweden is telling her Georg’s mother won’t consent to moving his remains – and that Georg’s mother is the owner of the grave site and therefore the sole decision maker.

Others have told her that’s not the case – that the spouse has the final say.

INTERNATIONAL DIFFICULTIES

There don’t appear to be any global sources with information on the steps taken and requirements for interring a loved one in foreign countries.

An individual must get in contact with the country’s embassy to learn the rules and procedures for repatriation, and there are requirements each airline has regarding the transportation of remains.

In addition, the Transportation Security Administration has its own process for approving the transport of ashes.

And then there’s the TSA disclaimer: “The final decision rests with the TSA officer on whether an item is allowed through the checkpoint.”

Marie said she plans to continue her quest to get her husband’s ashes back.


EdsPhotoEdward Munger Jr.
Communications & Social Media Specialist
NYS Funeral Directors Association